Record numbers of salmon and sea trout were found in English rivers during 2009, according to figures released today by the Environment Agency.

The news comes as the Environment Agency announced that river water quality in England has improved for the 20th consecutive year. Over 70% of rivers are now graded as ‘very good’ or ‘good’ under the organisation’s General Quality Assessment classification (GQA).

Cleaner rivers have resulted in the recovery of British wildlife once thought to have vanished forever in some regions:

* 50 years ago, no salmon or sea trout were seen in the River Tyne, but already this year more than 15,000 have been recorded migrating up river – the highest since records began.
* Record numbers of sea trout have been recorded in the Thames - many fish species in the lower reaches of the river were wiped out in the 1830s due to pollution.
* The River Mersey, once said to be the most polluted river in Europe, is the cleanest it has been for a century.

The improvements have been achieved through investment by water companies, tougher action on polluters, reduction in discharges from industry and businesses, changing farming practices and thousands of local projects. Examples include the building of fish and eel passes throughout the country, the creation of shallows which shelter fish from prey along rivers and visiting businesses to assist them in identify areas in which they can improve.

The Environment Agency announced earlier this year plans to clean up an additional 9,500 miles of river – the distance between England and Australia by 2015. This will be achieved through actions to be taken by many different groups including businesses, land managers and local authorities.

The biodiversity of rivers and lakes, in addition to water quality, is also measured under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). This sets even higher quality standards for rivers by using a wider range of measures than the GQA. The new assessments focus on the ecological health of waters with up to 37 measures of water quality scrutinised and the grading of each water body set by the measure which scores the lowest result. The annual classification of rivers In England and Wales under this more stringent standard will be published later this year.

Dr. Paul Leinster, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said:

‘Rivers are at their cleanest for over a century, and the Environment Agency is working hard to ensure this trend continues.’

Tackling discharges from sewage treatment works, industry, agriculture and urban sources, such as roads is essential to achieve better water quality.

Other organisations such as local voluntary groups, Rivers Trusts and wildlife groups also have important roles to play in making the country’s rivers even better for people and wildlife and we look forward to continuing and strengthening our involvement with them.